Jun 18, 2016

The Face of Summer











So far, we are having a great summer! Hopefully you are, too!

Jun 9, 2016

End of Year WrapUp

Now that we have finished our year, I am fully engaged in planning out next year. But the first step of that is looking back over last year and seeing what went well and what went badly.

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This was actually the best year we have ever had. We were able to stay engaged all year and finished all of our work well. We only had a couple of days where I just could not bring myself to do school and the vast majority of our days were productive ones. I credit this remarkable change to a couple of things.

First, I read somewhere last summer that school is our (as in mine and the kids') job and we should treat it as such. So the first step was to adopt the mindset that school was non-negotiable. No more waking up in the morning and thinking "Meh, we'll just take the day off" or "We'll just skip that today". This change in outlook made up 90% of the difference.

But not only did I have to change my attitude, I had to change the kids' attitude. We did this with timers. I told the kids the amount of the time they had for each subject (5 minutes for copywork, 15 minutes for piano, 20 minutes for science, 30 minutes for math, etc. ) and dangled free time in their faces as a reward. Finish before the time limit? Free time for YOU! Take longer? Lose some free time! And if you weren't completely finished with all your work before a certain time, then some very special evening privileges were revoked. It was simple and effective.


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Yes, we still had bad days where we were finishing up our work at 5 pm, But for the most part, they worked hard all morning and enjoyed their free afternoons.

And finally, I accepted the fact that I suffer from decision fatigue. All of our work this year was either open-and-go or already completely planned out. My kids are of the age that I can say, "This is how this is supposed to work" and they can follow the plan. So subjects like Geography, that used to get swallowed up in great dark holes of despair, actually got done this year because I gave them a list.

These apps, this puzzle, this book, these games, this CD of songs. Pick one each day and do it. And they did. Then I had to enforce a little more structure because they would just pick their favorites over and over and over. Next year, there will be a list and they will have to do a specific one each day. Because I love giving freedom, but if you take advantage then I will tighten those boundaries right back up.

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So now to the subjects of what worked and what didn't. Here are the plans that we started the year with and you can read below to see how that worked out.

Starting with

GROUP WORK:

Morning Meeting.
I gave up doing certain things on certain days. I gave up loop scheduling. If we couldn't do it every single day, then we just didn't do it. Because... decision fatigue. I realized that if I have to stop and figure out what we were supposed to do today then I would just stop doing those things. We were only consistently doing whatever we were supposed to do daily. So I just made everything a daily thing. Then everything got done. I did have to drop some stuff so we didn't spend too long in Morning Meeting every day. But it was worth it in the end.

Geography
This started well, we read books, learned some stuff, and each kid did a report on Antarctica. Then we floundered for a long, long time. Then I gave them the list that I mentioned before and they learned a ton about Europe. So, not as great as it could have been, but at least I did turn it around.

History:
This also started well. It was fun. Then we kinda stalled. We did get a lot of books read, but we fell way behind on projects. We are finishing up our booklist and doing a bunch of projects over the summer. I am so ready to put Ancient History behind us!

Latin:
This was a total flop. Sigh. I think we did one day of work. Maybe two. I'm starting to think Latin is just not in our future.


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Now for

INDIVIDUAL WORK

Math
Math U See works great for us every year! Each kid finished up a book (or the equivalent thereof) and great progress was made all around.

Spelling
We have used All About Spelling for years, so we have this down pretty well. Kaytie started doing so well with spelling in general that I put her on the fast track and let her zip ahead. Daniel and Abbie, who have floundered in spelling for years suddenly started understanding what was going on and made steady progress.

Bible
I love Bible Study Guide for All Ages and it works for us. My older kids are bored with it, and my younger kids don't appreciate all the reading (I used to help them with it but I pushed them out of the nest this year) but we keep on using it because... it works.

Grammar
Fix It! Grammar is such a hit for us! It works so easily and so well that even my science and math loving, language averse boys enjoy it (not that they admit it) and learn from it.


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Copywork
Nate now has handwriting that I can read without translation. Daniel can write well in cursive. Abbie learned cursive this year. I call that a success!

Writing
Jump In! worked well for us as long as we (and by that I mean I) worked well for it. Once I relaxed the reins and gave the kids independence then work stopped happening. Kaytie will be doing something different next year. Nate will start up in Jump In! right where we left off and keep on trucking. Only with a lot more supervision.

Science:
Another topic that went well as long as I provided daily supervision. But I started taking Kaytie and Nate's word for it that they were working twenty minutes a day and at the end of the year they were not even half way through the book. So they are working all summer to finish it. Consequences are no fun.

Daniel and Abbie's science went better. They felt as though they ran out of "fun" experiments to do, though, so we will swing into a different direction next year. More Unit Study and less notebooking and free exploration. I still plan on putting our trusty encyclopedia to good use though!

Reading:
Even though I didn't originally plan on doing so, I started Daniel and Abbie on phonics review using Logic of English as a base. We just worked on phonemes every day. It only took a few minutes, but it made such a difference! Abbie has fallen in love with reading and Daniel doesn't fight it like he used to.


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and finally:

THE EXTRAS

Logic (Kaytie and Nate)
We worked all the way through The Basics of Critical Thinking and never even got to The Thinking Toolbox. So we have that on our list for next year. No big deal. They learned a lot.

Art (Kaytie, Daniel and Abbie)
We changed directions in art so many times I can't even tell you all of them. What we finally ended up with though, was youtube videos of art instruction. The kids use my iPad to watch and follow along. The girls then use those learned techniques to draw their own stuff. Daniel sticks pretty closely to Minecraft, snails, and ocean scenes.

Tech (Nate)
Nate used Khan Academy most of the year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm trying to find something that is both more structured and more in depth for him for next year.


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Duolingo for Spanish (Kaytie and Nate)
A definite hit! The kids loved this program. They often ask to do it on the weekends. They both have picked up a good chunk of vocabulary and grammar. Neither is fluent in Spanish, but we are working on that. We all three highly recommend Duolingo!

Photography (Kaytie and Nate)
Well... they took a lot of pictures and they completed all the lessons. Nate had a brief love affair with photography wherein he completely took over my camera and filled up memory cards daily. Kaytie did exactly what was asked of her and no more. I think Nate needs another challenge and Kaytie needs to move on to something else. lol

All in all, we really had a great year and have high hopes for another great year after we have a long, fun summer.


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Jun 8, 2016

Schoolhouse Review Crew: The Glass Castle

Around here, we love to read, and for some of us, fantasy is what we love to read the most. So we were thrilled to be asked to review The Glass Castle by Trisha White Priebe and Jerry B. Jenkins  from Shiloh Run Press.

The Glass Castle is a mysterious story set in an unknown place and an unknown time. It has a medieval feel to it, with people walking or riding horses, no modern conveniences, and talk of kings and castles.

The Glass Castle {Shiloh Run Press Review}


The struggle with a book review is in telling you about the story without giving anything away! So I will simply say this: Avery, the heroine of the tale, is kidnapped in the beginning of the story. But she doesn't know by whom nor for what reason. She is taken to a mysterious castle where she finds many more questions than answers!

She makes many friends there as well as a couple of enemies. She explores a castle, is crowned queen, discovers an eerily familiar portrait, and breaks a lot of rules. That last part really bothered me. She is confronted from the very beginning of her stay in the castle with a list of rules. She is told these rules were necessary for the survival of her and the other inhabitants of the castle. Then she spends the rest of the book willfully breaking those rules and yet... no one dies because of it. She even breaks the most strict, most vital rule of them all and... no one really seems to upset about it.


My other point of contention with the story is that an awful lot of questions are raised all throughout the book but none of them are ever answered. I get that there is a sequel but still, it would have been nice if the authors had thrown us a just a little bit of a bone.

Otherwise, this was a delightful little tale of an engaging heroine who doesn't wait to be rescued but takes responsibility for her own saving. She is generous and kind, brave and humble. She is easy to relate to and impossible not to root for. The end of the book made us want to go find the next one!

I read this book in about a day. I passed it on to my twelve and thirteen year olds and they also finished it off in a day or two. Once we picked it up, we couldn't put it down until we were done.

I feel this is a very family-friendly book. Despite the medieval setting, there was no magic, no witches or wizards. There are some unpleasant characters, but no violence or gore. I think this book would make a great read-aloud for younger children while your older kids would devour it alone. Even as an adult, I found it engaging. It is now on our list for a family read-aloud.


My kids say:

Kaytie: I liked that it was kinda fast paced. I didn't want to put it down because it was exciting all the way through the book. I found it slightly annoying because the first book didn't answer any questions. There was a little inconsistency. Like they said something really bad would happen if they left the castle, but nothing happened when she ran away. Overall it a good book. I want to read the sequel so I know the answers to all the questions!

Nate: I liked that the first book doesn't give you very many answers so that you need the second book for more information. I like that they give you a bunch of questions to begin with so you want to keep reading. It's a really easy to read book. It's not one of those long, boring books, but it does go in depth. It is a really good book. I would give it to people who like to read and can read well.



The Glass Castle {Shiloh Run Press Review}



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Jun 7, 2016

Schoolhouse Review Crew: MaxScholar

We have been reviewing MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs from MaxScholar. This is an online reading program developed for struggling readers. It is a phonics based program, using the Orton-Gillingham method. We are familiar with this method, since it is used in many of the spelling and phonics programs we have used in the past.

MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review


I used this with my 9 and 10 year olds, who just finished 3rd and 4th grade respectively. While they are not struggling readers per se, they are reluctant readers, especially my 10 year old son. I recently discovered that his issue is a lack of phonics knowledge. I was hoping that MaxScholar would fill in the gaps for him.

MaxGuru was the program that we were given, and we received a subscription for two students. This gave us access to seven different sections:

MaxPhonics: starts with consonants and short vowels, then covers consonant blends, digraphs and trigraphs
MaxWords: covers syllables, spelling, prefixes and suffixes, Latin roots, and Greek roots
MaxReading: kids read stories/ articles and practice finding the topic, main idea and important details
MaxMusic: kids play word games and sequencing games with lyrics to popular songs
MaxVocab: games for practicing vocabulary
MaxPlaces: mixes geography and reading to build comprehension
MaxBios: kids read biographies of famous people and build comprehension

Each section has a "work" portion, where the kids learns and practices and a "fun" portion with games.

Each kid had their own login and their own dashboard. It was super easy for them to get on and work independently. A younger child might need more assistance, but after I told them once how it worked, they worked on their own each day. They had the ability to choose which Max topic they wanted to do and could move freely from work to fun. They had no problems navigating the site at all. The drawback to this being, I had no control over how much work they did before playing games. This, however, was not a huge drawback, since the games themselves (matching, building words, playing with words, hangman, word searches and the like) were all educational on their own.

I had my own dashboard, a parent dashboard. I could not make assignments for the kids, but I could track their logins, see where they spent their time, and what their scores are.


We spent most of our time hanging out in MaxPhonics and MaxReading, since our need was for building phonics knowledge and practicing reading. The kids would generally work a little bit and then spend a lot of time playing games. Again, I didn't mind because the games were building skills, too. Abbie preferred playing with consonant blends and Daniel enjoyed the nonfiction stories about animals and then doing the activities that helped with comprehension. I was just happy that he was happy to be spending time reading.

I do think this is a good program and I liked the following:


  • it was simple for my kids to use independently
  • there was a lot of reading going on
  • the kids could each focus on what they were interested in
  • even the games encouraged reading, playing around with words, and skill building
  • I could keep track of what they were doing on the site
  • there was a lot of variety in what they could do
For us, the only real drawback was that it didn't go far enough. As I said before, my kids are not struggling readers, they are just reluctant readers, so most of the phonics and reading skills offered by MaxScholar were already mastered by my two. They still enjoyed it, it was simply too easy for them. But this would be a great program for kids who struggle with early phonics, comprehension, dyslexia, or processing problems. 


The kid's opinion:

Daniel: I liked it because it helped me with reading. I learned different phonograms and things about animals. I liked reading the animal stories. I liked that in the phonics one it did the sounds of the phonemes for me to guess. I would suggest this for smaller kids.

Abbie: It was fun. It was too easy. I did like playing the games. I liked typing in the phonemes when it gave the sound. 


MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review



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